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Anne Sexton Biography

(1928–74), Heart's Needle, To Bedlam and Part of the Way Back

American poet, born in Newton, Massachusetts. She worked as a fashion model in the 1950s and, after establishing herself as a poet, held various visiting appointments at American universities. She was encouraged to write poetry by the psychoanalyst who treated her for depressive illness. She also acknowledged W. D. Snodgrass's Heart's Needle (1959), widely regarded as one of the first works of ‘confessional poetry’, as an enabling example for the unsettlingly candid treatments of her difficulties in To Bedlam and Part of the Way Back (1961) and All My Pretty Ones (1962), her first two collections. Live or Die (1966), which won a Pulitzer Prize, contains her best-known work, exemplifying her technical originality and imaginative energy in its evocations of sinister dimensions of the psyche. Love Poems (1969) was followed by Transformations (1971), her adaptations of stories by the Grimms. Her characteristic autobiographical directness and ironic neutrality of tone were resumed in The Death Notebooks of 1974, the year of her suicide. The metaphysical orientation which emerges in her later work is most explicit in the guardedly affirmative vision of The Awful Rowing towards God (1975). Her description of herself as ‘an imagist who deals with reality and its hard facts’ is appropriate to the clarity and force of much of her writing. Complete Poems was published in 1981. A Self-Portrait in Letters (1977) was edited by L. G. Sexton, her daughter, and Lois Ames. Diane W. Middlebrook's biography of Sexton appeared in 1991.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Seven Against Thebes (Hepta epi Thēbas; Septem contra Thebas) to Sir Walter Scott and Scotland